Peace-keepers who became hate-figures: Richard Dowden in Mogadishu explains why Somalis who welcomed US forces 10 months ago now want to kill them
Thursday 14 October 1993
Mrs Ali Warderye can barely speak but angry relatives and friends tell you how on 3 October her house was hit by a rocket from an American helicopter. Her husband and four other children were killed, not all of them instantly. The house was hit at 9pm but the fighting went on most of the night, so she lay in the rubble listening to the screams of her children until they died. Next day she was taken to hospital in a wheelbarrow. More than 500 Somalis, many of them women and children, were killed or injured in the fighting, in which a Malaysian soldier and 16 American troops also died.
It is hard to remember the warm welcome that south Mogadishu gave the US Marines 10 months ago. Then it was hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about the Americans; now it is hard to find anyone who does not hate them. 'The Americans are cowards,' said one of Mrs Ali Warderye's relatives. 'They . . . just shoot women and children. We welcomed them in December and they sent gunships to kill us.'
Although it is American casualties which forced President Bill Clinton to set a withdrawal date for US forces, the huge Somali toll - no one knows how many it really is - may have an equally critical effect. It has not only given thousands of relatives of the dead and injured a cause for revenge but alienated other Somalis who until now were not anti-American. Not all support the warlord General Mohamed Farah Aideed.
Somalis I have relied on for years to give a balanced analysis of the country's politics are too angry with the Americans even to contemplate what will happen when they leave. The truth is that the American casualties have created a furore back home which has forced a US withdrawal, but the Somalis' casualties will inspire them to fight even harder.
At the moment there is a ceasefire by General Aideed's side and the fact that it has held for five days with only one minor incident reported shows that those who attack the United Nations forces are not half-crazed kids with AK-47s, as CNN and US propaganda would have us believe, but a disciplined force of urban guerrillas.
As more details of the 3 October debacle emerge, it is clear the crack Ranger troops were caught in a well-orchestrated ambush. They were rescued by Malaysian and Pakistani troops and suffered 75 per cent casualties. The US-led UN force in Somalia, known as Unosom, no longer patrols the streets of Mogadishu since a landmine killed four US soldiers in August.
UN troops are now confined to fortified checkpoints or heavily armed convoys. The capital is under 24-hour surveillance by helicopter and Orion spy aircraft. Every few minutes a helicopter beats across Mogadishu and these have been joined by the roar of fighters from the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, which is patrolling off the coast.
Getting into the castle-like compounds of the UN was, a few months ago, fairly easy. Now it is a maze of security bureaucracy. Inside, UN staff live in bunkers, fearing snipers at night and mortar attacks by day. Much of the UN budget goes on protecting itself. A huge area of houses around UN headquarters in the old US embassy grounds has been razed to deny cover to snipers.
The UN spokesman, Farouk Mawlawi, stresses that south Mogadishu is not all of Somalia and points to the 36 district councils set up under UN supervision. It is true there have been few attacks on the UN outside south Mogadishu but almost no non-Somalis travel by road anywhere in Somalia and non- UN aid agencies will not use UN protection vehicles, because they feel it makes them vulnerable to attack. They prefer the security of well-paid Somali armed guards from the right clan.
Even if the UN ordered them to attack and their officers agreed, there are few units in Unosom with sufficient firepower or motivation to hold their own against committed Somalis. Yesterday Kofi Annan, the UN under-secretary for peace- keeping, tried to uphold Security Council Resolution 837, which mandates Unosom to bring General Aideed and others to justice for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops on 5 June. But he said discussions were being held on new ways of implementing it. In effect, this means that attempts to seize or kill General Aideed are being abandoned.
Every Somali now knows the UN cannot implement its decisions by force. Mr Annan warned that when the Americans leave in March, the whole operation will be weakened and may 'unravel' altogether. This is the first time a UN official has publicly admitted that unless there is a political agreement by the time the Americans go, any UN force left may be driven into the sea.
If he risked a visit to a Mogadishu hospital before he leaves for New York, Mr Annan would learn that since 3 October there has been little chance of a political agreement. The UN has lost the battle for hearts and minds as well as the battle against General Aideed. Unosom is a defeated army, defeated not by force of arms, for no one doubts the US could destroy Mogadishu in hours if it felt so inclined. In the end it was defeated by a few seconds of television pictures, the image of Mike Durant, the captured helicopter pilot, lying bloodied and frightened, a hostage. It is that image which brought the Abraham Lincoln to the coast and more US forces to the city. It also brought Mr Clinton's personal envoy, Robert Oakley, back to Mogadishu to secure the release of Chief Warrant Officer Durant and a 'decent interval' - Henry Kissinger's phrase for the withdrawal from Vietnam - before the US pulls out.
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